INTERNONYMITY

Posted in Rants on January 14th, 2009 by Ed

A colleague raised an interesting point not terribly long ago.

Everybody googles everybody, right? If you're an employer seriously considering hiring someone, unless you happen to be 65 or Amish it's likely that you'll see what Mr. Internet has to say about John or Jane Doe. This is why many people cloak themselves in the anonymity that the internet allows. If you want your very own website about your regular conversations with extraterrestrials, it is reasonable to expect that you might not want the boss to know that you are insane. So John Doe becomes "John in Texas" or "AlienGuy01", author of AlienBlog.net. If you feel like becoming a regular commenter at PissInMyMouth.com, you wouldn't post as "Mary Jones, Public School Teacher from Pittsburgh" would you? Of course not. It's common sense.

Mike, the guy who used to live here and now lives here, politely asked that I not use his last name when I re-designed the site. Another regular poster, who may get involved with my exciting new side project BillKristol.net (coming soon!), was explicit about the work-related need to conceal his identity. One of the members of my band is, for identical reasons, quite enthusiastic about not using his real name. These examples are the norm. In a society in which a lot of people take offense to language or subject matters more risque than a Leno monologue, it makes perfect sense.

Which raises an interesting question: why don't I take advantage of internet anonymity? Blogging is particularly dangerous for academics – at least this kind. People have been denied tenure over blog-related controversies. And as my colleague recently pointed out, it's entirely possible that members of hiring committees google me and find this site. Then 90 seconds later my file is in the trash. Maybe that's paranoid. Both academics who blog and the Chronicle of Higher Ed insist that it happens. To wit:

Job seekers who are also bloggers may have a tough road ahead, if our committee's experience is any indication.

You may think your blog is a harmless outlet. You may use the faulty logic of the blogger, "Oh, no one will see it anyway." Don't count on it. Even if you take your blog offline while job applications are active, Google and other search engines store cached data of their prior contents. So that cranky rant might still turn up.

I don't know how much stock to put into such talk. Regardless, I would seem to be an excellent candidate for keeping things incognito. Students, for example, could find this website and, with little effort, assemble a Magna Carta-length list of material for formal complaints.

I've certainly thought about all of these issues and considered the potential consequences of my daily bursts of profanity and dick jokes. Here's the thing. I don't give a shit. I'm not ashamed of anything I've ever said or thought in this context and I don't really care who wants to read it. Moreover, I have two big issues with the academic bias against blogging.

First, it only seems to be a problem when someone has a blog that offends the Talk Radio crowd. It's OK for Glenn Reynolds to essentially be wrong about everything and distort reality to fit his shrill talking points so long as he doesn't tick off David Horowitz and Glenn Beck. Hell, it's OK for John Yoo to be on faculty while simultaneously, you know, being a war criminal but heaven forbid someone has a blog where they use words like "fuck." Lying and distorting the truth are acceptable. The line must be drawn at the moral evil of swearing, though.

Second, this anti-blog bias represents a very petty and narcissistic side of some tenured (hence older) academics. They react very angrily and with considerable bitterness to the idea that anyone could care about what one of their underlings (grad students, untenured assistant profs, or, god forbid, even an undergrad) has to say. I have a modestly successful blog with a consistent base of readers now in the high triple digits. Believe me, that really bugs people who have dedicated their careers to creating a huge academic output that absolutely no one cares about. Academics publish incredibly compartmentalized work in journals no one reads. In a month more people read a decent blog than will ever read the output of most tenured academics in a lifetime. And most importantly, the blogging format circumvents the gatekeeper function of the academy. The idea that a lowly grad student could write anything without the Elders first giving it a stamp of approval…well, it's practically academic heresy.

So, screw it. At this point I'm in way too far to backtrack anyhow. Regardless, I take solace in the fact that I am a flat-out terrible academic and no one would hire me sans blog either. This thing makes me happy, and if I'm going to be unemployed or driving a bus for a living I might as well do what makes me happy.

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